Measurement of empathy in nursing research: systematic review

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Measurement of empathy in nursing research: systematic review


This paper is a report of a systematic review to identify, critique and synthesize nursing studies of the measurement of empathy in nursing research.


The profound impact of empathy on quality nursing care has been recognized. Reported empathy levels among nurses range from low to well-developed and there is clearly debate about what constitutes empathy and how it can be measured and improved.

Data sources

Searches were made of the CINAHL, MEDLINE and PsycINFO databases, using the terms ‘empathy’, ‘tool’, ‘scale’, ‘measure’, ‘nurse’, and ‘nursing’, singly or in combination to identify literature published in the English language between 1987 and 2007.


A systematic review was carried out. The included papers were critically reviewed, relevant data were extracted, and a narrative synthesis was conducted.


Thirty papers representing 29 studies met the inclusion criteria. Three types of studies were identified: descriptive studies (n= 12), studies of empathy and patient outcomes (n= 6), and evaluational studies (n= 11). Twenty scales were used, with more than one tool being applied in some studies, suggesting the need for a systematic review of empathy measures in nursing research. A range of settings were studied but some, such as genetic healthcare, have been neglected.


Despite numerous tools being used in nursing research to assess empathy, there appears to be no consistency, suggesting the need to evaluate the rigour of empathy tools appropriately, either to inform education or for application in clinical settings.

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